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Long-Term Care and Women

High Costs Of Long-term Care, The Challenges Of Caregiving, The Future

Many older persons today are healthier, better educated, and wealthier than earlier generations. Still, a significant number of older persons are economically and physically vulnerable—especially older women.

Long-term care is, in essence, a women's issue. This is because it is predominantly women who need care and provide care. Women make up 75 percent of all nursing home residents age sixty-five and older. Two-thirds of consumers who receive home-care services are women, and nearly two out of three prescriptions are filled out for women. Women have a greater likelihood of suffering from illness or disability than men, and women are overwhelmingly the caregivers for relatives and friends who need assistance with daily activities in the home.

Several factors contribute to the increased vulnerability of women as they age. For one thing, women have a longer life expectancy than men, about seven years. Women who reached age sixty-five in the year 2000 could expect to live an average of nineteen more years, compared to thirteen years for men. Women make up 72 percent of the population age eighty-five and older. Because women live longer than men, nearly four out of five people age eighty-five and older who receive help for two or more disabling conditions are women.

Secondly, many older women live alone. This occurs because women often outlive their husbands, while their children live in different communities and their families are scattered. In 1998, nearly 60 percent of women age sixty-five and older were either widowed, divorced, or had never married, compared to 25 percent of older men. Widows in 1998 outnumbered widowers four to one (8.4 million widows, 2 million widowers.) Of the elderly widows, seven in ten lived alone.

An additional factor is that women often have lower incomes than men. Being able to live an independent life depends on having enough income to meet needs. Women age 65 and older are twice as likely to be poor as are older men. According to an AARP study on the impact that pay inequality and segregation in low-paying jobs have on the retirement income of women, "by the time women are in their fifties, they have spent fewer years working, have earned less over their lifetimes, and have held lower quality jobs than similar-aged men" (Mitchell et al.).

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Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 3